Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Freedom to Slow Down


It seems counterintuitive to look at the tension Bob is facing about change in his life, his family’s life, and the life of his friends outside the church, and say to him, “You need to slow down if you want to see that dream move from a thought in your head to a reality in your midst.”

So welcome to one of the many paradoxes of the gospel.

Perhaps one of the best places to view this paradox is in the story we often refer to as “The Good Samaritan.” If anything unveils the root reason why Bob can slow down to love and disciple others, it’s this story from Jesus. Simon Sinek is right…we should always start with the “why.”

We find the parable recorded in Luke 10:25-37, and the name we have given it is often used for hospitals, justice ministries, and as the battle cry for those staring down the racial divide, educational gaps, refugee crisis, and many other injustices. These are real issues where we want to see what is good and right have its full effect.

But, in further study of this passage, we find, like the disciples who spent years with Jesus, we may have missed a deeper meaning to what Jesus is declaring in this ancient parable. In fact, we may have missed the very connection he’s making between what we want to see come to fruition in our world and how we actually arrive at this desired destination.

The story begins with Jesus’ encounter with a lawyer, “For behold, a lawyer stood up to put him (Jesus) to the test” (Luke 10:25). This is a man, mind you, who was extremely well educated in the Jewish Law. To say he had the Law of God and all its many facets memorized would not be an understatement. From what we can tell, he apparently has heard about Jesus from others, has gone to listen to Jesus, and in his observation felt there is a serious divide between what God has declared in the Law and what Jesus is teaching.

So, right out of the gate, the lawyer begins his onslaught with one simple question: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25).

It’s a simple, straightforward question, and with death being a destiny awaiting us all, a very relevant question. Jesus, as a skilled teacher, begins the process of answering the lawyer’s question by asking him a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (v. 26).

Ready to share his immense knowledge of the Law in a moments notice, the lawyer responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27).

Ding. Ding. Ding. “You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Do this, and you will live” (v. 28).

You could have heard a pin drop as the lawyer was assured that Jesus’ beliefs about the Law and his teachings on eternal life were in line with what God has declared in the Torah. But instead of being satisfied with Jesus’ answer, an eerie look comes across his face as he quickly, and quietly realizes: “According to the Scriptures, If I ‘do this,’ this Law, this act of loving God with everything I am, and loving my neighbor in the same degree that I love myself…then I ‘will live.’”

Most of us read this and think, “Alright. A clear to do list. I got this. Thank you, Jesus!” But for the lawyer here, this wasn’t a moment of gratitude… it was a moment of sheer panic.

As a lawyer, he knew better than anyone else in his day, how the perfect Law to “love God with all” of your being and to “love your neighbor as yourself” is only done, only met, only fulfilled, if it is done with perfection. Yes, righteousness, “rightness,” is our need to live in the presence of a holy God. There is no such thing as imperfect obedience.

The very Law the lawyer had just used to justify himself incriminated himself.

So rather than face the reality of his need and his inability to meet it, “he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (v. 29).

The question is an escape tactic; a backpedal plot rooted in a man-made spin on the Law, aimed at helping the lawyer get around the demands of loving God and his neighbor with perfection. In response to this move, Jesus goes into a story of a man who was traveling on a long stretch of dangerous, isolated terrain from “Jerusalem to Jericho,” where he “fell among robbers who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.” Scene one of the opening act is set with a character who is broken and desperately in need of someone outside of himself to save him.

Jesus goes on and says, “a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side,” followed by a “Levite” who took this same course of action (vv. 31-32). With scene two, two new characters are added to the plot, one representing the Law of Moses, and the other it’s role in the world. Both are naturally good, informative, and even directive, but neither have any ability to actually bring change to the human heart. Like a mirror, the Law can reveal the dirt on your face. Amen. However, rubbing your face on a mirror will never make it clean.

From here Jesus brings the story to its climax as He says, a “Samaritan,” unlike the Priest and Levite… “when he saw him, …had compassion.” Jesus went on to spell out what this loving compassion looked like as the Samaritan “bound up his wounds, …set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn to take care of him,” and then covered this stranger’s medical expenses as he paid the innkeeper to take care of him until he returned (vv. 33-35). Think of the medical cost today entailed in nursing someone to health who was almost dead. The estimate is upwards of an entire year’s salary.

With the full scenario and each character’s role in view, Jesus moves to the heart of the lawyer’s question and asks: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” (v. 36). In other words, in light of the Law you quoted just a minute ago about what you need to do to inherit eternal life, the question here isn’t “Who is your neighbor?” but rather “What kind of neighbor are you?” The lawyer answers, “the one who showed him mercy.” And with the lawyer’s ploy exposed, Jesus makes sure his original question is clearly answered: “You go, and do likewise” (vs 37).

The parable is pure genius.

Jesus uses a story about a man who is desperately in need of someone else to save him after being “beaten half dead”…a guy the lawyer refuses to identify with, who was loved by a “Samaritan”…someone the lawyer will not identify with, to show him what he “must do to inherit eternal life”…a task he cannot identify with.

And perhaps that is the point.

With the beliefs most likely held by the lawyer in regards to what is wrong with the world and what the solutions are to fix it, he was looking for a Messiah who was coming to make the world straighten up and fly right, not “the Lamb of God” who is slain to take “away the sins of the world” (Jn. 1:29). It’s the same song and dance with everyone in Jesus’ context, including the disciples themselves. So, as people who were thinking they needed a guide rather than a Savior, they would naturally see themselves as the Samaritan in Jesus’ story, not the helpless man on the side of the road. Ironically though, it’s only in recognizing our death, our inability to live out the demands of the law with our righteousness of “filthy rags,” will we cling to the only One who’s in the resurrection business (Isaiah 64:6).

It is Jesus and Jesus alone who fulfills the Law and “inherits eternal life.” By God’s grace, he has announced his Father’s dealings with the sin problem of our world are “finished,” forgiven (John 19). By God’s grace, his “righteousness” has been attributed to all who believe (Rom 3-4; Eph 2:8-10). And by God’s grace, “all things,” as in everything that feels lost from our acts of pride, greed, fear, hatred, racism, sexism, manipulation, abuse, theft, lying…“has been reconciled” in the life, death, and resurrection of the one who made us, loved us, forgave us, and sustains us all (Col. 1:15-20).

In Jesus, reality has undergone a major shift.

We need nothing else…except to believe in the One who’s made this life-changing news a reality.

Believing we stand complete in Jesus is what allows us the freedom to look at the purpose of the Law, this beautiful picture of love for God and others, not as a to-do list to obtain the holiness the Law demands, but as a picture of what harmony with God and others truly looks like. This by no means removes the call on our lives to what is good and worthy of pursuit, it just changes the posture of our pursuit as the Law, this “ministry of death,” reveals the impossible feat of us ever walking in our own righteousness (2 Cor 3:1-9). It’s a journey marked not by determined action, but rather complete dependence on Jesus who is our salvation and sanctification (Heb. 10:13).

Believing we stand complete in Jesus is what allows us the freedom to die to the project of self, the tyranny of more, and the need to posture ourselves as someone who has it together. The independent life, apart from Him who is “life,” is a myth (John 14:6; Gal. 2:20). We are completely “hidden” in Him (Col. 3). There are no levels in the kingdom, no ladders to climb in hopes to reach your next breakthrough… just a Savior to dwell in. So you’re free to stop giving away all of your limited margin to church programs centered around your growth, and like the disciples, run with Jesus as He ministers to those outside—an actual place of need that drives your dependence and shapes your life.

Lastly, believing we stand complete in Jesus is what allows us the freedom to stop racking our brains in search of the magic bullet to help us build the church. Jesus said, “I will build my church,” so it’s not something we do (Matt. 16:18). It is easy to lose sight of this promise when we mistakenly place this task upon ourselves or when we face trials, fail, and feel defeated. Just as it’s easy to forget how the early church was a vast movement that brought the news of Jesus to much of the known world with only one resource: his Spirit. No copy of the Scriptures for everyone to study, no seminaries, no large Sunday venues, just the Spirit at work through everyday people who had been “given the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5).

Knowing what He would accomplish on the cross, Jesus slowed down to disciple others.

Knowing what He has accomplished on the cross, we can slow down to disciple others as He works in us, with us, without us, and even in spite of us.

Such good news for the lawyer in us all.

Gino Curcuruto is part of the Directional Team for The Table Network. He and his family lead a new expression of the church, known as The Table Philadelphia. He, along with fellow The Table Network leaders Russ Johnson & Tony Sorci, co-authored the book, Slow Down: A Timeless Approach

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